Friday, November 12, 2010

Better than Disneyland!

I don't think there is any way I'm going to be able to tie this blog into user assistance or user experience, so I'm writing it off as "Hey, it's Friday and it's my blog :-)"

Went to a gritty little bar in Atlanta's mid-town last night that has an open bluegrass jam session every Thursday night. I mostly play alone-- three times a year I get together with an old high school friend and play Dobro to mostly what would be called folk songs.

I was nervous! My minimum objective was to find the place and walk in with my guitar. If I only did that, it would be a baby step in the right direction. My other objectives were not to cry and not to throw up.

These folks were good! It turned into a group of about 4 fiddlers, 2 banjos, 2 mandolins, a stand up bass, and a couple of guitars--oh yeah, and a Dobro player, me!

Not only did I meet all my objectives, I actually got my Dobro out and played along. Bluegrass jams are an interesting dynamic. There is a real culture of inclusion. Every player is given an opportunity to solo. Sometimes when I got the nod, I could only shake my head and say "I got nothing." But then there were the times when the lead banjo guy or the guy on bass would say, "Take it, Dobro," that I had something and jumped in.

They called me "Dobro!" A sixty-one year old man should not get giddy, but I gotta tell you, I'm still flying over that!

Playing bluegrass in a group that big, what with its driving rhythms and full sound, had a very physical sensation. It reminded me of when I would go sailing in a brisk wind. There is an awesome sensation of being moved by something that is both soft and powerful at the same time. Air pushing a boat at adrenaline-provoking speed--vibrating strings carrying you in a current of harmonious sound.

I will never be the same.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A simple productivity tool

A lot of vectors converged this week:
  • Got back from vacation with the usual back-from-vacation-what-is-it-I-do-that-these-folks-pay-me-for fog
  • Recently got a new boss (former boss from earlier position)
  • Some projects slowing down, some simmering under the radar, some seemingly waiting for...oops, waiting for me!
On and off I have used an Excel spreadsheet to track my time against projects, and that has been a useful tool--psychologically, it keeps my nose to the grindstone. But it has some limitiations:
  • I don't share it with anyone--hey some things just need to stay private.
  • It is "time spent" focused, not achievement focused.
So I created a new tool to use: A Google spreadsheet to track project status and to log activities against their respective projects--not time, more of "Held meeting with SME to determine how single sign on works" and the date. Each project has its own tab with the following:
  • Project name
  • Description
  • Status (green, yellow, red)
  • Status description (where the project is currently or why it is yellow or red)
  • A log to record activity and date
I also have a main summary tab that pulls all of the above information except the log and that shades the status cell with the appropriate color (use the "change with rules" option for the background color).

Tip: To pull data from a another sheet in the same file:
  1. Click the cell on the summary page where you want the data to show.
  2. Type an equal sign.
  3. Navigate to the sheet that has the data you want to display.
  4. Click the cell that has the data.
  5. Press Enter.

And since it is a Google doc, I have shared it with my boss.

My new routine is to look over the status summary and the individual tabs each morning.

Here is what I have noticed:
  • I am motivated to do something so I can log an activity. And since neither my boss nor I are stupid, I look for a meaningful activity.
  • When my status indicates I am in a holding pattern waiting for someone/something, I send an email to the party I am dependent on, or I schedule a meeting with them--and log that activity!
  • My focus is on making progress and not on clocking in and out.
I find this particularly helpful in my current environment, which is an Agile shop. I am on several scrum teams and I have some strategic project work I am involved in. My daily scrum reports do not adequately let me reflect on my total contribution. This status spreadsheet does. BTW, the log is great for when I call into my daily scrum meetings, I can see exactly what I have accomplished the previous day for that project.